It’s not news that cardiovascular disease is rampant in the U.S. today. It has sat in the number one spot for most frequent killer, for many years. It goes to show that we’ve been doing a poor job of preventing and treating it.
A widely misinformed public has learned to place blame in the wrong places and is getting sicker as a result. One of the more well known diseases of the cardiovascular system is atherosclerosis. It’s name may not be well recognized, but it’s description is: plaquing of the arteries.
In atherosclerosis, plaque builds up in the arteries and causes a myriad of cardiovascular issues including ischemia (reduced blood flow and oxygen to and from the heart), arrhythmias, peripheral artery disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), myocardial infarction (heart attack), and stroke.
Plaque consists of triglycerides, oxidized LDL cholesterol, immune cells, cellular debris, and calcium (Bauman, 2014). How it gets there has been a source of controversy for years. The most up to date, scientifically found, unbiased research indicates that the root cause of plaquing is inflammation. Inflammation damages the endothelium (interior wall of the artery), forming lesions that need to be healed. These “lesions” attract oxidized LDL (the bad LDL) to congregate and initiate our body’s internal “first-aid” kit to repair the area. The healing substances consist of cholesterol, adhesive repair proteins like Apo(a) and fibrinogen, calcium, fatty acids, etc. (Bauman, 2014).
While it is typical to blame cholesterol for the plaquing, it is instead, one of the primary substances released to “patch” and heal the affected area (Rosedale, 2005). Obviously, the more lesions, the more plaquing and therefore, the more blockage. This inflammatory response, as opposed to arterial narrowing, is the culprit which can lead to arterial clogging, causing a series of damaging events within the cardiovascular system (Bauman, 2014).
To the aware individual, symptoms can be apparent. To the greater U.S. population, symptoms may be non-existent or so typical that the individual doesn’t realize. In many cases, no symptoms will present themselves until the artery is almost entirely blocked. This is why it is essential to be proactive with prevention. If symptoms are experienced, they may be similar for a number of cardiovascular diseases. Some include (nhlbi.nih.gov):
- Angina (cramps in the heart muscle caused by lack of blood flow/oxygen)
- Arrhythmias (heart palpitations)
- Pain in shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back
- Sudden weakness
- Paralysis (an inability to move) or numbness of the face, arms, or legs, especially on one side of the body
- Trouble speaking or understanding speech
- Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Problems breathing
- Dizziness, trouble walking, loss of balance or coordination, and unexplained falls
- Loss of consciousness
- Sudden and severe headache
As with most chronic conditions in the body, there are a myriad of cause and effects leading to atherosclerosis. As discussed, inflammation is a leading factor here. Inflammation begins with the gut. Gut health begins with appropriate diet for the individual, balanced lifestyle, and good stress management.
Also mentioned above as part cause, was the depositing of oxidized LDL within damaged portions of the endothelium. Oxidized LDL (“bad” LDL) can be avoided by avoiding oxidative stress. At this time, free radicals are a well known buzz word in mainstream talk of health. It’s generally well known, by the public that we need to avoid them. The reason is because they cause oxidative stress, which is characterized by cell damage. It may at times be difficult to grasp the importance of the smallest measure of life, but our cells are our foundation...what we’re built upon. If they are damaged, they don’t function properly which leads to inflammation and chronic disease, a state that the U.S. public is all too familiar with.
Following a healthful diet focused on heart health while creating lifestyle habits to decrease chance of heart disease, is the best way to restore or maintain cardiovascular health. Below are some specific ways we can address our biggest killer:
Balance blood sugar – imbalanced blood sugar leads to inflammation. Inflammation is the main player in cardiovascular disease (CVD) so it is essential to minimize it.
Support the gut and blood sugar balance by eliminating refined carbs, sugars, and processed foods, and increasing high quality fats and proteins.
Minimize oxidation in the body by avoiding processed and refined oils – not only do these oils cause free radical damage in the body, but they imbalance our ideal omega-3:omega-9 ratios, both of which lead to inflammation.
Eat high amounts of anti-inflammatory foods (antioxidants) – antioxidants help us fight free radicals and they improve cardiovascular function. For example, they protect the arteries and LDL from oxidative damage (Bauman, 2014)
Eat high whole foods fiber
Remove toxins in the diet and in the home – toxins lead to oxidative stress and inflammation and include toxic metals, industrial chemicals (think plastics, personal care, cleaning products, and insecticides), cigarettes, air pollution, trans fats, radiation, and agro chemicals (Bauman, 2014).
Increase quality of foods and nutrient levels to optimize metabolic functioning
Make stress management a priority – stress wreaks havoc on our immune system, our blood sugar regulation, and our hormonal balance…all of which can lead to heart disease. Breath deep often, try meditation, do some yoga, do activities that you love.
Movement! Include resistance and high intensity interval training – numerous studies show association with a sedentary lifestyle and heart disease. Research shows that exercise lowers fibrinogen, glucose, & triglycerides while increasing HDL.
As with many chronic diseases and issues within the body, balancing blood sugar is one of the most important things you can do to help prevent, or heal heart disease. Emphasize this in diet and lifestyle and the other health components will begin to fall into place.
FOODS TO AVOID
This list is composed of the typical culprits that cause inflammation. They include:
- Refined carbohydrates, sugars, and starches
- Fructose (fruit not included)
- Conventionally grown produce and conventional animal products
- Excessive muscle meat (enjoy more organ meats)
- Damaged fats (rancid/oxidized vegetable oils)
- Minimize caffeine, alcohol, and starchy carbohydrates
KEY NUTRIENTS TO IMPROVE FUNCTION
CoQ10 is our main energy nutrient. In addition, it lowers blood pressure, stabilizes cell membranes, and protects LDL from oxidation. It’s one of the antioxidants that we synthesize in the body, but production can be reduced with improper health care and meds. The highest sources of CoQ10 per serving are:
- Organ meat - 3mg
- Grass-fed beef - 2.6mg
- Fish - 2.3mg
- Nuts - .8mg
- Broccoli - .5g
Therapeutic dose - 300-600mg daily; Preferred form - ubiquinol
Magnesium is valuable heart disease prevention, as it helps this most important muscle, the heart, relax. Magnesium prevents calcification in the arteries and is also anti-inflammatory making it the perfect heart mineral. It has been called “nature’s calcium channel blocker” (Pitchford, 2002). The highest sources of magnesium per serving are (whfoods.com):
- Pumpkin seeds - 191mg
- Amaranth - 160mg
- Spinach - 157mg
- Swiss chard - 151mg
- Sesame seeds - 126mg
- Black beans - 120mg
Therapeutic dose - up to 10 mg/lb of body weight; Preferred forms: citrate unless diarrhea is an issue in which case, use glycinate, taurate, or transdermal magnesium oil (MgCl).
Vitamin D is actually a hormone that has wide ranging positive affects on the body including lowering inflammation, blood sugar regulation, bone health, and immune enhancement (whfoods.org). Deficiencies are widespread and have been correlated with obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes (Lee et al, 2013), as well as CVD events, endothelial dysfunction, arterial stiffness, & reduced myocardial blood flow (Bauman, 2014). Vitamin D best sources per serving (whfoods.org):
- Salmon - 511IU
- Sardines - 175IU
- Grass-fed whole cow’s milk - 62IU
- Tuna - 93IU
- Eggs - 43.5IU
Preferred forms – sunshine. This isn’t possible all year round in most of the world. Check your ability to get an appropriate dose with this smart-phone app: dminder.info. Fermented cod liver oil - 1000mg/day. Vitamin D3 liquid - 8000IUs/day (Mercola, 2011).
SYNERGISTIC FOODS TO SUPPORT CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH
Olive oil, a monounsaturated fat touted for it’s heart protective abilities, contains oleic acid, phenols, and squalene which give the oil anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory affects, plus reduce blood pressure and have positive benefits on blood serum levels (Bauman, 2014). Therapeutic dose = 70ml/day (O. Castaner, et al., 2011)
High in Vitamin C and antiatherogenic, the pomegranate including it’s juice and seeds are a wonderful option for heart health as they reduce oxidative damage (Aviram & Rosenblat, 2012). In addition, they minimize synthesis and absorption of cholesterol in the blood (Bauman, 2014).
Amaranth is a great source of minerals, including magnesium, phosphorous, calcium, silicon, and iron. For a plant, it’s protein content is quite high. In addition, its tocotirenols and sqalene content help reduce excess blood cholesterol levels. The high nutrient content makes it the perfect food for anyone with nutrient deficiencies, or needing therapeutic amounts. This amazing food is a benefit to those who don’t do well on grain but enjoy porridges and grain-like substances because it is actually a seed (Wood 2010).
Celery is high in cumerin which has wonderful blood pressure lowering capabilities. In addition, its fiber content helps to optimize cholesterol levels, and it is great for detoxing which lowers inflammation and benefits arthritis, heart health, and rheumatism. Celery has a high electrolyte content. 4 juiced stalks per day is the best way to attain these electrolytes for rehydration, also making it great for a hangover cure (Bauman, 2014)!
According to the Weston A. Price foundation, liver contains more nutrients per gram than any other food. So why aren’t we eating more of it these days? It’s gotten a bad wrap in some ways, thought of as a toss out organ, and if you’re not used to eating it can be an acquired taste. It’s time to add it back to the dinner menu because it’s worth it. An abundant source of Vitamin A, the entire array of B Vitamins, bioavailable iron, CoQ10, minerals including magnesium, copper, zinc, and chromium, precursors to DNA and RNA, and one of the best sources of folic acid (Fallon, 2001).
Garlic provides countless nutrients and has abundant medicinal properties including antibacterial, anticarcinogenic, antifungal, improves digestion and metabolism, stabilizes blood sugar, lowers fever, antiparsitic, promotes good gut bugs, eliminates toxins in the body, reduces inflammation in the sinuses, lowers blood pressure and has a great affect on blood cholesterol levels. Basically, so long as you’re not having digestive issues that inhibit you from eating alliums, you should be eating garlic (Wood 2010).
THE FINAL SPREAD
More people today suffer from heart disease than any other medical concern. It’s only been recent that mainstream media and healthcare industry have gotten on board with the biggest culprit: inflammation.
Although the evidence is clear, much of the industry is still debating and a majority of society is still listening to the misinformation that made our population sick to begin with. We can prevent and heal heart disease with a healing diet of nourishing, anti-inflammatory foods, and by cutting the crap that’s filled our diets for decades.
REFERENCES / BIBLIOGRAPHY
Aviram, M., & Rosenblat, M. (2012). Pomegranate protection against cardiovascular diseases [PDF]. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Article ID 382763. doi:10.1155/2012/382763
Bauman, E. & Friedlander, J. (2014). Therapeutic nutrition. Penngrove, CA: Bauman College.
(3rd ed.). Pitchford, P. (2002). Healing with whole foods. Asian traditions and modern nutrition (3rd ed.). Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Fallon, S. (2001). Nourishing traditions. Brandwine, MD: NewTrends Publishing.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Atherosclerosis? Retrieved from: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/atherosclerosis/signs
O. Castaner, M. Fito, M.C. Lopez-Sabater, H.E. Poulsen, et al. (Aug, 2011). The effect of olive oil polyphenols on antibodies against oxidized LDL. A randomized clinical trial: for the EUROLIVE Study Group.
Rosedale, R, MD. (May, 2005). Cholesterol is not the Cause of Heart Disease. Retrieved from: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2005/05/28/cholesterol-heart.aspx
Wood, R. (2010). The new whole foods encyclopedia. New York, NY: Penguin Books